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When you hear the term carb, what comes to mind? Bread? Pasta? Potatoes? Those are not the only form of dietary carbohydrates. Carbs can be found in fruits and vegetables as well, in the form of natural sugars and starches.
Cutting carbs — eliminating foods with carbohydrates from the diet — is an oft-used tactic for weight loss. This strategy is counterproductive: Whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables can actually aid in weight loss. Carbs really aren’t the enemy — read on to find out why.
Real Food vs Processed Food
One of the reasons that carbs get such a bad rap is because so many processed foods that are high in fat and sugar are associated with them — think donuts and French fries. Processed foods are devoid of nutritional value and lead to blood sugar crashes which leave us feeling hungry. This cycle of eating poorly and craving more is why it is possible to be obese yet malnourished.
To break this cycle we must eat real food. Our bodies are designed to process and utilize the sugar, starch and carbs found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. When we fill our bellies with nutrient-dense recognizable foods, our bodies are better able to regulate the release of energy.
That is why you don’t have a sugar slump after eating an apple but you do after eating donut: Both foods contain sugar and carbs, but only the apple provides it in a form useful to your body. The enemy is processed food.
Carbs Improve Heart Health
In your battle for good health, you want carbs in your arsenal. Whole grains such as oatmeal can clean your arteries. Foods that are high in soluble fiber, including beans, have been proven to keep plaque from building up on arterial walls. A diet rich in whole grains and soluble fiber can lower the chance of a stroke or heart attack.
Carbs Improve Cognitive Function
The brain is fueled by glucose, a byproduct of carbohydrate breakdown inside the body. When you reduce or eliminate carbs, your brain is not getting the energy it needs to function properly. Eating carbs can also improve your mood by boosting serotonin levels: Serotonin is a brain chemical linked to feelings of happiness and well-being.
Carbs Improve Weight Management
Eating real food full of good carbs keeps you feeling fuller longer and in turn reduces the overall amount of calories you consume throughout the course of a day. For example, an entire plate of fruits and vegetables which would take you several hours to eat has the same number of calories as one cinnamon bun, which would take you only minutes to eat.
The key to making carbs work for your health instead of against it is to differentiate good carbs from bad carbs. Good carbs are whole foods prepared in states that closely match their natural form.
Eat fruits that are fresh, not canned in heavy syrup. Prepare vegetables steamed or roasted rather than fried or covered in heavy sauces. Chose whole grains instead of over-processed breads and pastas.
In other words, you want to eat foods that are ingredients, not made of ingredients. By making these changes, you will find that carbs are not your enemy — they are your friend.